We have a new incumbent at the house on top of the hill. But for the doubts cast about the constitutionality of the oath taking, the one aspect that is refreshing about the transition is that it has come about in a democratic manner and all stakeholders to the coveted position have acknowledged the legitimacy and primacy of the process. Whether occupying the most powerful seat in the country was part of his initial strategy or a deviation from the original path, it speaks of the consummate skills of Mr Zardari that he went about his moves in a pragmatic, coherent and organised manner. He manipulated his coalition partners, principally the PML-N, like one is making deft moves on the chessboard. In the end, he had all of them cave in. The manner of capitulation was different: while some agreed to cooperate from the initial stages by naming their price tags, others went about fighting the inevitable in a dispirited and lackadaisical manner. The sad part is the number of verbal promises and written commitments that Mr Zardari made along the way, but never honoured. This points out the exorbitant extent of the Machiavellian streak that garnered all his moves. By the end of it all, the style had become a distinctive trademark of his operational predilections. He remained true to it even at the press conference that he addressed immediately after assuming the office of the president. While he is on record to have boasted that the PPP person in the presidency would relinquish the powers vested in him under 58-2(b) within 24 hours of his assuming the office, nothing of the kind transpired. Instead, he opted to sit next to Hamid Karzai whose venomous utterances have saddened the hearts of the entire Pakistani nation and made a few inane observations including the classic one regarding the promise of good news on Kashmir in a month's time. No mention of disinvesting the office of the president from the unconstitutional powers absorbed under 58-2(b), or the promised annulment of the 17th amendment, or the path that is to be traversed in attaining the objectives so clearly outlined in the Charter of Democracy (CoD) No mention either of the grave economic crisis that the country is confronted with, or a strategy to alleviate the sufferings of a predominantly underprivileged nation, or the need for controlling the spiralling cost of living And, of course, no mention of the ongoing judicial crisis He did keep one promise though. Replicating the occasion of the swearing in of the PPP person as the prime minister, his own function was also rich on political sloganeering. The sanctity and sombreness of the occasion were gravely compromised in the process and the presidency continued to echo with full-throated jingoistic outbursts even when the national anthem was being played. While Islamabad was ringing rich with the talk of continuing collaboration with all political entities, Lahore was witnessing a depressing spectacle where the incumbent governor went about destabilising the provincial dispensation in a crude and boastful manner: "If PPP pulls out of the provincial coalition, it would fall within 24 hours." This threat came in spite of the fact that the sitting chief minister had already demonstrated a comfortable majority for his government without the PPP support. In a manner of speaking, the die has been cast and one is already getting a hang of things to unveil. It is a foregone conclusion that Mr Zardari has started the latest stint in his controversial career carrying a massive baggage. One was hoping that he would make an effort to dispense with most of it at the very beginning, thus assuming a non-partisan mantle and paving the way for playing a constructive and meaningful role in the affairs of the country. To the contrary, the penchant for grabbing all echelons of power remains paramount that would run contrary to the need for empowering state institutions. There is no indication that an initiative would be on cards to create the much-needed balance of power between the president and the prime minister. Saying that he would be subservient to the parliament is only a testament to Mr Zardari's infatuation with controlling all fountains of power in the country. Let's not forget that, alongside being the president, he also remains the co-chairman of the party that heads the coalition and thus the person who decides on who is to become the prime minister. In the midst of the latest spate of attacks by the American forces deep inside Pakistani territory resulting in the death of a large number of innocent citizens, the role of the foreign office has also come under close and critical scrutiny. In the absence of the pronouncement of a viable and effective strategy to counter these condemnable incursions, it is the Chief of Army Staff who had to come out with a statement of policy. These are dangerous symptoms in a polity that is still seething in its birth pangs. In spite of the welcome factors in the COAS statement, I strongly believe that the policy statement should have come from the foreign office of a democratic government. Is it shirking its responsibility? Is it ill-prepared or reluctant to play the role that has been looming for long on the horizon? Or, is the current incumbent at the helm only a cosmetic replacement while the ignominiously self-defeating and compromising policies of the former military dictator would continue unabated? The latest story in the New York Times regarding an understanding already having been reached between the US administration and General Musharraf with regard to strikes inside Pakistani territory casts a disturbing shadow on the prospects of maintaining Pakistan's sovereignty and securing peace in the tribal areas of the country. The portents smack of a dangerous conspiracy to keep the country unstable and insecure so that the so-called managers of its destiny would continue playing their antics. This is the sum game of all statements and retractions that have followed each other at a blistering pace in a sequence of debilitating moves. There is an urgent need to replace the marauding cold-heartedness with a tangible strategy to tide over the diverse crises that Pakistan is afflicted with. What it requires immediately is a dose of resurgence of trust in the ability of its leadership that they would be able to take the country to its avowed goals. At the moment, the approach is gravely symptomatic of being extremely high on polemics, but low on meaning The writer is a media and political consultant based in Islamabad E-mail: raoofhasan@hotmail.com